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Letters: Fracking’s opponents are being demonised

These letters appear in the Friday 9th May edition of the Independent

“Frack we must” – editorial, 8 May. No we must not. Those opposed to fracking have been demonised by politicians and industry because they threaten the development of a lucrative industry with a limited life that will generate huge profits for a few.

We should learn the lessons of history and not repeat mistakes, as alternative energy sources to unconventional gas are available. In 17th-century England, when the advent of extensive coal-based industries were welcomed, there were few energy options available and no one knew what the long-term environmental and health costs would be.

That is no longer the position. The global public-health and adverse societal implications of continuing to use energy that generates greenhouse gases are well established, not fanciful.

Unconventional gas is not part of an energy solution; it is a major pollutant. It diverts cash, resources and expertise away from work on the more sustainable energy solutions that are now available. 

We are running out of time on global warming if we do not develop sustainable energy sources now and reduce unconventional gas extraction, not increase it. That is the hard-headed strategy we need to formulate, rather than manufacturing scare  stories about ephemeral energy-supply crises in Eastern Europe.

The Lords committee reporting on fracking does not argue its case cogently. We are assured by MPs and peers that the UK has some of the strongest environmental regulations and careful management for fracking. We are then told by the Lords that we need changes in the law to fast-track fracking and that fracking applications are being blocked because of confusing and time-consuming regulations.

Something does not make sense with holding both these positions at the same time.

Professor Andrew Watterson, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling

Your editorial on fracking contains several unstated value judgements. First you assume that a transition to a truly green energy system is unachievable (untrue), second that shale gas is less polluting than coal (not true in the US), and third that energy security trumps climate change as the major determinant of policy (unbelievably short-sighted).

The assumption that we might as well frack because it’s just another type of fossil fuel denies the reality of global warming. We are currently emitting 33 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, which means that we will exceed the 450ppm threshold in about 20 years. In the UK it will take 10 years to establish a fracking industry, at which point the technology will be locked-in for another 30 years and we will be well beyond the point of no return.

When future generations, or what is left of humanity, look back on the failure of mankind to tackle climate change in the early part of the 21st century, your editorial will stand out as a prime example of why it all went so horribly wrong.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Peers on the Lords Economic Affairs committee seem to have overlooked key evidence in their desire to cheer-lead for a massive fracking frenzy across the country. The shale-gas revolution in America, which they admire, has peaked, and costs are rising rapidly to extract remaining reserves. On 27 February the authoritative Bloomberg business news service reported that independent shale gas producers  “will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back”.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Astrazeneca and antibiotics

There is grave concern at the rise in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant infections. New drugs to counter them are not being developed fast enough.  At least part of the reason for this is a lack of investment by multi-national drug companies which see little or no financial incentive to do so.

Our government is now apparently standing idly by while one major drug company attempts to take over another. It is implicit that there is an intention to maximise profits by further reducing competition and investment in research and development activity.

Public health would not be well served by such a takeover. It would result in a further reduction in the number of individual companies striving and investing to gain competitive advantage through the development  of new treatments.

Roger Blassberg, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Forty-two years ago I was the science and technology counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington. A visitor from the erstwhile National Research Development Corporation came to see me. He was in the US to negotiate a licence for a process for burning powdered coal, for which the Corporation held the intellectual property rights.

Something made me realise that my visitor should see Lord Cromer, the Ambassador. This was arranged through Charles (now Lord) Powell who was the Ambassador’s Private Secretary. The Ambassador listened to what my visitor had to say and then replied: “While I have not understood all the technicalities, please remember that these people are very good at skinning the rabbit.” My visitor took heed and the eventual outcome was that the American company was not granted a licence.

If Lord Cromer were alive today, I feel sure that his advice would be the same about Pfizer’s intentions.

James F Barnes, Ledbury, Herefordshire

Would Pfizer be so keen to acquire AstraZeneca if the UK’s corporation tax rate was not much lower than in the US? Politics is always involved in business – by commission or omission.

Geoffrey Payne, London W5

Shameful infant mortality rate

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (5 May) rightly draws attention to our shameful infant-mortality rate and our government’s broken promise to make the UK the safest country in the world for children. Unfortunately, she concludes by asking us whether we “still quiver with patriotism”. What a pity to belittle such an important issue by assigning to it an association with such an irrelevant emotion.

Beryl Wall, London W4

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes: “Pro-lifers want to save foetuses, but seem to have no interest in saving the very young”. This slur mars an otherwise trenchant article. The pro-life charity Life is one of the largest providers of accommodation for young pregnant women and unsupported mothers in the UK. Their comprehensive service prepares women for independent living with their children, something that social services frequently can’t or won’t do. Rather than demonise them, Alibhai-Brown should champion them as one of the many unsung organisations that work tirelessly to lower the infant mortality rate she is rightly appalled by.

Mary Gray, Croydon

Our policy is not to give policy advice

Oliver Wright correctly identifies the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) as the independent non-departmental body responsible for scrutinising the evidence base for every government regulation that potentially impacts on business or civil society organisations (“A sober look at costs led to the alcohol price U-turn”,  30 April).

However, Wright implies that the committee scrutinises government policy. That is not the case. We deal only with the impact assessments prepared by government departments of the costs and benefits to business of their policy proposals.

We do not scrutinise or provide advice on policy. Decisions on whether policies are taken forward reside, quite rightly, with ministers. Our role is to help ensure that, when making decisions, ministers have access to the best assessment of the likely effects of any proposal.

If the evidence presented in the impact assessment completed by the department sponsoring any new regulation, is judged to be poor or incomplete, we advise ministers of this. In these cases, ministers will decide whether to proceed with the policy or ask for further evidence.

Michael JS Gibbons, Chairman, Regulatory Policy Committee, London SW1

Britain’s colonial future? 

Cable says Britain’s future is “not a tax haven” (6 May). The way the country is being run, Britain’s future is as someone else’s colony.

Martin London, Denbighshire, North Wales

‘Enemy aliens’ among us

The most prominent German in Britain during the First World War, but overlooked by Simon Usborne (8 May), was George V, interned in a rather luxurious and costly “privilege camp” called Buckingham Palace.

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire